THE mouse-colored gruyo gelding was streaked with dust and dried lather. His sweat-encrusted flanks were gaunt, showing clearly the spring of ribs and sturdy barrel. From the tips of his well-set ears to his black fetlocks now grayed with alkali every line of the horse showed endurance and speed. But despite his steel-like make-up the gruyo was tired.
As a flick of the reins turned the horse around a small hillock and the broad sprawling bed of the Gila River spread before him the gruyo 's rider showed equal fatigue. With a quick glance he swept the river bank then settled his weight on one stirrup as he waited to be joined by the four men who were following him.
John Glanton, erstwhile soldier, guerilla-fighter and scalp-hunter, was leaving Mexico.
Behind him vengeful riders sought the tall, cold-eyed Missourian. Ahead, across the Gila, lay Colorado City and temporary safety. The scattered adobe hamlet at the junction of the Gila and the Colorado Rivers was his objective since Mexico no longer offered haven.
Glanton, like his horse, was worthy of note. Nearly six feet tall, he had broad muscular shoulders set squarely above the narrow waist and lean hips of a horseman. A worn buckskin jacket was cut short to clear a heavy cartridge-belt from which hung a heavy pistol and a broad-bladed bowie knife. Under his right leg the butt of a rifle protruded from a scabbard, rubbed smooth by long use. A thin blanket roll was lashed to the cantle of his saddle. His head was tilted back as he studied the desert town across the Gila, his face half hidden by a silver-studded sombrero.
It was the face, weathered and tanned to a deep walnut hue, that marked the man. From his dark hair, now grown long and hanging over his buckskin collar, to his black-bearded jaw, it was a face without a trace of warmth. The cold gray eyes that stared out from under shaggy brows matched the knife-like slit that was his mouth.
John Glanton, slouching in his saddle awaiting the arrival of his men, was a killer.
Fit followers of their leader, the four men rode up to where he waited.
All were well mounted; all obviously weary. Cherokee Rogers, Panhandle Lawson and Rio Wright were counterparts of Glanton. The fourth man, whose misshapen back made him appear like a bulky toad, was Humpy Smith. It was he who broke the silence as they gazed across the Gila.
"So that's Colorado City, eh?" said Smith. "Well maybe we can ride a while now without looking back. I'm getting tired of watching my own dust all day. What are we waiting for? Let's get out of Mexico while we've still got our hair."
"Quit fretting, Humpy," replied Glanton. "We're getting out. But first I want to pow-wow with you fellows a bit. We've got a pretty good stake even if those greasers did finally find out they were buying Mexican as well as Apache hair from us. But that's ended. They don't pay any bounty on scalps across the Gila and that's a pretty salty settlement over there.
"It may cramp you boys for a while, but when we cross the river you're going to work for a living. Understand?”
"Hell's fire, John, you ain't going religious on us, are you?" demanded Cherokee.
"No, but I'm sure going to be careful. We just missed having our throats cut when those greasers found we'd scalped that old cholo and his wife and they'll follow us to blazes to get even. When we hit Colorado City we're going to be on the level -- at least until something turns up."
"Well, honest or not," chimed in Panhandle, "let's cross the darn creek before this horse of mine falls dead. He hasn't got another five miles in his hide."
Colorado City, perched on the bank of the Colorado River just north of where the Gila joins the larger stream, scarcely noted the arrival of the five desert-stained riders. Their rough exteriors blended easily with the folk of that sturdy sunburned hamlet and as they paid for their food and shelter in Mexican gold no one questioned them.
Following instructions the group said little of their recent stamping-grounds and nothing of their occupation. Glanton, acting as spokesman, spread the word that they were looking for a business opportunity. It was as a result of this announcement that he met Doc Lawrence.
Lawrence was a Californian who saw profit in the broad stretch of the muddy Colorado that separated Colorado City from the California shore and the trail to San Diego. No bridge spanned it and the small boats manned by the Yuma Indians could scarcely be called ferry service.
To Lawrence it seemed that a real ferry would return large profits to its owners. In Glanton he found a partner and after days of hard labor the cumbersome flat-bottomed scow that was their new ferry floated on the Colorado. The westbound tide of gold-seekers California-bound made business brisk; monopoly made prices high and the ferry business prospered.
In the days that he watched the laden wagons as they rolled down to the ferry Glanton studied the chances for a lucrative sideline. He saw in his four companions who were still without steady occupation a chance for additional revenue and he laid his plans.
Humpy and Cherokee were detailed to dispose of the competition by the Yuma Indians. Even the few boatloads which these Indians hauled cut down the profits and Glanton ruled that they must go. The crippled killer and his colleague soon attended to that and the Yuman boatmen, their throats cut, floated down the Colorado while their battered craft swung in the eddies along the shore.
Glanton and Lawrence prospered accordingly while the Yumas, silent desert-dwellers, said nothing but sought the answer to the murders.
Once more Glanton called in his men.
With simple directness he described his plan. Cherokee and Humpy were to cross to the California side; Panhandle and Rio were to remain in Arizona to watch the ferry. As small outfits with only one wagon crossed the river the two on the west bank would be signaled as to whether they carried a load worth stealing. If so Cherokee and Humpy, disguised as Yuma Indians, were to loot the travelers.
"And remember," said Glanton, "leave no one behind to talk."
Soon tales of burned wagons and slain travelers began to come into Colorado City. In one instance Cherokee Rogers led a party of citizens to such a scene and there showed them the trail of unshod horses and heelless foot tracks which pointed the finger of suspicion at the Yumas. Men suspected the Indians but could prove nothing and those red-skinned warriors were fretful enough. For the loss of the Yuman boatmen, coupled with stolen Indian stock, caused the Indians to gather round their council-fires and talk of revenge.
It was then that Don Felipe Chavez appeared on the banks of the Gila.
Slender and dark, fine drawn from many days in the saddle, the Mexican crossed the Gila under the light of a high moon and rode far to the right around the little desert town. Followed by a single Indian companion he moved on to the north where he made a fireless camp above the Yuma Indian village in the heavy mesquite that bordered the river.
After the horses were picketed in the lush river grasses Don Felipe sat munching tortillas and cold jerky. Finally flipping the butt of a maize-wrapped cigarette into the sand he said, "We have come far, old one, but in the pueblo is that for which we came. The saints are kind. Soon the gringo will pay for every Chavez scalp. Let us sleep."
The Indian nodded and the master and man wrapped themselves in their serapes and dropped off to rest.
Neither Glanton nor any one else in Colorado City knew of the arrival of Don Felipe and his Yaqui guide. For it was not to the town that they went the following morning but to the huts of the Yumas. There the Yaqui, in the bastard Spanish of the Indians, made known the identity of his master and himself. They were taken to the Yuma chief and to him, through an interpreter, Don Felipe Chavez told his tale.
He described the raid on the Chavez home far below the Sonora border. He told how in the absence of himself and most of his men the scalp hunters, led by a tall, dark-bearded man, had swooped down on the rancho, killing men, women and children and how in the burned ruins of his home he had found their bodies with the scalps torn from their heads.
Only one Yaqui mozo had not died. Desperately wounded, he had lived to tell of the raid.
With a sweep of his hand the Mexican jerked the head cloth from his Yaqui guide. The top of the Indian's head was a naked scar!
"El Lobo here," said the Mexican, pointing to the Yaqui, "knows the raiders. For a long time we have been seeking them, especially the big black-bearded man on the gruyo horse."
The Mexican said that the same Indians who had told him of this man's whereabouts had also told him of the death of the Yuma ferrymen and of the looted wagons along the trail to San Diego. "I have come to the Yumas to ask for help," said Chavez, "but one thing I demand-the gringo Glanton is mine."
Far into the night the Yuma chief and his headmen sat in the hogan with Chavez and the Yaqui and when the council ended and the embers burned low their plan was complete.
It was just before dawn a few days later. Colorado City lay asleep.
No sound told of the approach of the Yumas as they moved into the clearing at the edge of the little river town, but when the first gray rays of light picked out the details of the small adobe buildings the attack swept down. The sharp bark of rifles and the shrill cries of the warriors awoke the camp to its danger too late to save it from almost complete extermination.
The fight was sharp and bitter and many had fallen before the Yumas withdrew to retreat far up the Colorado. The survivors in the hamlet cared for the wounded, then began the task of burying the dead. Among the slain were Doc Lawrence, his partner John Glanton and Glanton's four men.
As the bodies were carried to their common grave one of the burial detail called to his companions. "Look!" he said. "The Yumas never did this. They don't keep tally that way. Here's Glanton's body and he's been scalped with his own bowie. No, I'll bet no Yuma ever did that."
South of the Gila the mouse-colored gruyo gelding, his blue-gray coat glistening in the sun, stepped daintily ahead of the rugged mustang ridden by the Yaqui El Lobo. On his back Don Felipe swung easily to the horse's steady pace. There was a grim smile on Don Felipe's lips. At the throat latch of his bridle hung the scalp of John Glanton.